Eden Park, 1966



The Maori guys sitting around us laughed and slapped their thighs. They shook their heads in amusement and passed around the flagon of beer. Mac Herewini had done it again. The first five-eighths with the footwork of a dancer had slipped away from a British forward.


It was Eden Park, 1966. The New Zealand Maoris vs the British Lions. I was a lad who'd never been to a major rugby match and was on the terraces at Eden Park with my stepfather. Strange, really, he was never much into rugby.

We sat on the terraces, me goggle-eyed at the collection of characters alongside us. A good two thirds of the crowd would have been Maori that day and about 85 per cent male.

The Maori guys next to us were especially fascinating for a wide-eyed boy. They were all huge men - tall, wide with impressive bellies. They also laughed at everything.

They offered the flagon to my stepfather. He took a pull. Strange, he wasn't into beer either. But that was the nature of the terraces in those days - nothing threatening, no aggression, with humour high.

Especially when Herewini was twinkle-toeing his way past the Lions forwards. The terraces never laughed so hard as when Herewini was dodging giant men, occasionally literally running in circles, then somehow emerging out of the confusion untouched and usually with the most delicate chip or punt of the ball so that it landed in the area of greatest awkwardness for the Lions.

This was not a great Lions side. Led by Mike Campbell-Lamberton, it was probably the last time England chose a captain because he was a jolly good chap and an officer and a gentleman. The Lions also used a curious strategy of taking on the All Black forwards and adopting a no-risk policy with their hugely talented backs, including the great Mike Gibson from Ireland, the Welsh winger Dewi Bebb and the stately Scots winger, Sandy Hinshelwood.

The latter two scored tries as the Lions won 16-14 in an exciting match, during which the Maori's virtual All Black backline (Sid Going, Herewini, John Collins, and Ron Rangi among them) put in strong tackles and created havoc on the counter. One try was scored by Wellington winger Pat Myers - a man so blond that any Maori resemblance seemed incidental.

His parentage - and appearance - had come in for much ribald comment from the group next to us but, when he scored, we were all dancing on the seats, the big men's bellies bouncing as they laughed and said: "Phew, eh? Must be a Maori."

The Lions won in the end but it convinced me that there was excitement and good fun to be had at a major rugby match - and also that a match versus the NZ Maori was a must for any international tour. That opinion still applies.